The Texas State 7-on-7 Tournament has come and gone, staged last weekend in College Station, and for the first time since 2004, no team from Plano ISD made the trip south.
That’s not to suggest that Plano East, Plano Senior and Plano West were entirely dormant on the 7-on-7 front, as all three schools afforded their skill-position players an opportunity to compete against teams from around the Metroplex during the summer’s litany of state-qualifying tournaments.
Although neither program wound up among the 64 on hand at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex over last week’s two-day state tourney, the local football teams still penned a crucial phase of the offseason – something where the results can sometimes take a backseat.
Debate will rage on for years about the correlation between success in 7-on-7 in the summer and 11-on-11 football in the fall, but even more vital are the micro-level objectives among these teams – things like building chemistry and communication, seeing how players handle adversity without a coaching staff nearby, developing chemistry between quarterback and receiver, or evaluating a positional battle.
Between the PISD trio and private schools Prestonwood Christian and John Paul II, they encountered some combination of all goals through their respective 7-on-7 campaigns.
Take Plano East, for example. The Panthers were a shoo-in to qualify for state 7-on-7 last year thanks to a wealth of experience at quarterback, receiver and defensive back, but found themselves entering this summer with newcomers aplenty in those roles. That made the on-field results a bit more rugged, with East going just 1-5 in SQT appearances in Frisco and Rowlett. That adversity made for a valuable learning experience, according to offensive coordinator Brad Bailey.
“We kind of started getting at each other a little bit. It happens when you’re struggling,” he said. “I got on them a little bit and just said, ‘Guys, if we can get anything out of this, let’s get a little better.’ … You know, [facing] a little adversity, how are we going to deal with that? That’s what I wanted to get out of it, and they took that to heart. They hustled on and off, and they got after it and competed.”
Plano West, meanwhile, continues to hone an identity under first-year head coach Tyler Soukup. With the Wolves deploying multiple quarterbacks through their SQT appearances in Hurst and Rowlett, as part of the ongoing battle for the starting spot behind center, West matched its rival to the east with a 1-5 record that included a pool win over Mesquite Horn, which won the consolation bracket at the state tournament.
Three of the Wolves’ losses came by eight points or less, however, and Soukup is hopeful those close calls serve as a springboard heading into the fall.
“We’ve got to focus on making those plays in the moment, and that opportunity, when it presents itself and we’re in a game that’s a one-possession game – we’ve got to make a play,” Soukup said. “We’ve got to make a play at the end. Whether it’s a defensive stop [or] a big-time throw-and-catch, we’ve got to make those plays, because we’ve now positioned ourselves, through our effort, to be in these one-possession games. It’s a big step in the right direction.”
Plano Senior, the city’s most credentialed 7-on-7 program, ironically participated in just one tournament this summer, going 2-1 and finishing one win shy of advancing to the semifinal round of the Blue Raider SQT in Hurst.
John Paul II, on the other hand, was among the area’s busier 7-on-7 squads – posting a combined record of 5-2 in SQT appearances in Hurst and Justin – competing at an event held at SMU and playing nine games at the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools state tournament last weekend in Waco.
Although the summer came with its share of milestones – including the program’s first-ever appearance in an SQT semifinal – matchups against Tyler Grace Community and Austin St. Michael’s to round out the TAPPS state tourney dealt the Cardinals an adversity they rarely incurred over the summer.
“We really didn’t have moments like that when we were really far behind,” said George Teague, John Paul head coach. “We told them to be proud that we came back and put ourselves in a position where we didn’t quit, whereas a couple years ago that might have happened. But when you’re playing against good teams and are equal to or better than us, we have to be able to grind it out and win.”
Prestonwood’s plight this summer was a bit more akin to East, breaking in a bevy of newcomers across its skill-position flanks – encountering the peaks and valleys of that youth with a 6-6 run split between an SQT appearance in Hurst and a 6-3 finish at the TAPPS state tournament.
Those five teams look to carry over the lessons learned from 7-on-7 to the start of fall practices in August, with Prestonwood and John Paul beginning workouts on Aug. 5 and PISD hitting the field one week later on Aug. 12.
-Taylor Raglin contributed to this story